Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Baby Chicks are not Easter Toys!

Or Passover toys.  Both Easter and Passover are spring festivals (In the Northern Hemisphere at least).  Jews are not as strongly focused on chicks and bunnies this time of year, so I suppose this post is directed more at my non-Jewish readers, but my plea to both is the same:  Please don't buy baby animals that you can't keep for their entire lifetime.   It's not fair to your kids, and not fair to the animals.

Day-old incubator chicks
(Photo courtesy of USDA)
Those cute fuzzy chicks are going to grow up -- very quickly -- into full-sized chickens, most likely roosters, because the hatcheries keep the more valuable females for the egg trade.  In addition, you really can't keep just one chick, because these are flock birds who do not thrive in solitude.  That sharp, incessant peeping of a lone chick is a signal of extreme loneliness and distress.  He is calling for help from his flock mates -- who aren't there.

Chicks hatching under a mother hen bond with her and their nest mates even before hatching.  The hen clucks softly to her eggs, and the chicks begin peeping softly to each other from inside their eggs -- a very different sound than the distress call.  By the time the hatch is over, they are already a bonded family unit.  Incubator chicks can't bond with a machine, but they probably do bond with each other.

A mother hen sitting on her nest
in my backyard.  The pale yellow
spot by her breast is a new chick.
(click photo to enlarge)
Separation from the flock is very traumatic.  So is being kept under bright lights in a pet shop, because normally the chicks would periodically take shelter in the warmth and darkness under their mother's wings.  Being exposed to bright light and strange people all day long is like being out in the open and constantly threatened by a predator, with no place to hide.

A minimum of three chickens is needed for a happy flock.  Unless you live on a farm, just what are you going to do with three roosters?  Every year, animal shelters are inundated with unwanted chickens and ducks after the holiday, birds that have grown too big and too noisy for urban backyards.   These birds are very hard to re-home, because most people don't want a crowing rooster anymore than you and your neighbors do.

This little chick was hatched
by the hen above, and grew up
knowing his mother
Even worse, some people release them into the wild, mistakenly thinking they will get along just fine.  They might for a while -- but when winter comes, they will freeze to death, because domestic ducks cannot fly south like their wild cousins, and chickens are jungle birds, not well adapted to snow like pheasants or grouse.  A number of years ago I rescued two half-grown chicks that somebody had dumped at a freeway rest stop.  (Read that story)   And I found my white gander, Prince, waddling down our country dirt road.  He is still with us at the age of 13 and may live to be 30.  None of these birds would have survived in the wild.

There is also a very real danger that children can accidentally kill a baby chick or duckling simply by holding it wrong.  Birds do not breathe the same way we do.  They have no diaphragm.  Instead, they must rely on the expansion and contraction of their little chests to breathe.  If you hold a chick too tightly -- as children often do -- he can smother in minutes.   Unfortunately, this happens more often than we want to hear about.   There is nothing more traumatic than having a child's pet die in her hands.

The bottom line is:  Jewish law says that you should not acquire any animal unless you can feed and care for it properly.  As readers of my blog know, I myself have chickens, and I am not against keeping them, if you can properly care for them for their full lifespans -- which is an average of 8 to 10 years.  If not, then it is better to buy your kids a plush toy.


chickenadvocate said...

Dear Rabbi Gershom, thank you for your excellent and informative blog post on the "Easter" chick issue. People who read this will learn a lot about the complex needs of chickens and the human obligation to care for them lovingly and properly for their whole lives, as you do. Wonderful piece! Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post on baby chicks and ducklings for Easter. I have an alternative idea for little children for Easter. How about organizing a group of little children to help clean up a watershed of trash? After the project is done reward the children with an Easter fruit and nut basket.

Take a digital camera to the habitat and video tape ducks, geese, and other water birds pairing off, mating and raising their young then show the video on television.

YonassanGershom said...


That is a great idea -- if you live in a warm climate. Up here in MN, we are still buried in snow & the creeks are all still frozen. The ducks & geese won't be back until much later. (Return of the Canada geese is always a thrilling sign of spring here.) One could, however, find a nature film about waterfowl and watch that -- I'm sure PBS has something online.

For those of us who do not celebrate Easter, Earth Day comes in April, so that fits in with spring cleanup and ecological awareness. Our Cub Scout troop does a cleanup project for Earth Day.

YonassanGershom said...

OOPS! I just accidentally deleted a perfectly good comment (hit the wrong button trying to delete a duplicate by somebody else) -- and even worse, I don't remember who wrote it! If I deleted you, no offense intended, please repost :)

Mary Lapara said...

Thank You Rabbi Gershom, for speaking up about a huge problem that most people are unaware of. Poultry need your voice. Thank You for caring.

YonassanGershom said...

Welcome to my blog, Mary -- and thank you for caring about God's creatures. Buying baby chicks for kids really isn't a Jewish custom (neither are baby "Easter bunnies" -- we do not celebrate Easter), so I was afraid I might be overstepping my bounds here, criticizing somebody else's holiday. But the issue for me is kindness to animals, and that really knows no denomination.

Ironically, my first pet chicken was an Easter chick that one on my non-Jewish friends got and then decided not to keep after he started crowing. I took him in and had him for years, but most are not so lucky.

Anonymous said...

G-d Bless You for speaking up for animals. Happy Passover

Beryl Furman Finland said...

You are a beautiful person, a rare one! But mankind is not made of persons like you, rather the opposite! thank you for letting me know about your excistence!

rrrina said...

Dear Rabbi Gershom,
Thank you for educating people about baby chicks and from discouraging people from purchasing them as ornaments or accessories. Ours is the only species capable of such selfishness and arrogance as to manipulate, imprison, neglect, and harm other species for entertainment. Thank you for planting seeds of compassion in our fellow humans.
Rina Deych, RN
Founding Member
Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos

Jesica Reese said...

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Barnebazar said...

No doubt traveling and picnic is good for kids health and mental growth but same importance can be given by Barneprodukter to your kids like educational toys, role play toys etc.

Aliza Sartor said...

Great post! I am Canadian but live just outside of Amsterdam. Bike everywhere – Have had kids in front, in back – some of the first kids in Amsterdam with mandatory helmut policy (mine). When my second was born I bought a “bakfiets” which is translated: a box bike – It has a box in front that seats 4 (and for a while a baby car seat and 2 kids) and a seat on the back for a bigger kid. So all in all – a bicycle built for 6 that I power with my own legs. I can also get a weeks worth of groceries in there! but can still take it out for a long bike ride! Love my bike!!!! Great to see you biking in NYC.thanks!

Yonassan Gershom said...

I think maybe you posted this comment in the wrong thread? I live in Minnesota, not NYC. And the article here is about chickens not biking...

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